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Volume 22 No. 43
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Hawks flying high on and off the court

Jeff Teague was one of four Hawks in the All-Star Game.
Photo by: NBAE / GETTY IMAGES
The Atlanta Hawks, who began their season in turmoil but have surprised on the court and last week locked up the NBA’s first 2015 playoff spot, have seen their business metrics rise along with the team’s win total this year.

The parties now bidding to own the franchise could be the biggest winners of them all.

While team officials declined to disclose any financial details, sources familiar with the club’s business said the Hawks have seen a double-digit percentage increase in total revenue this season compared to last year. In just the past few weeks, the Hawks have sold 1,700 new full-season tickets for next season priced with an average increase of 10 percent. The team has seen a 97 percent increase in traffic on Hawks.com, and the team’s television ratings on Fox Sports South were up 71 percent through mid-February.

To be sure, the Hawks began their season with traffic numbers and TV ratings that ranked relatively low leaguewide. That’s part of the reason why a franchise making gains to the degree Atlanta is unsurprisingly is drawing attention.

“Momentum has never been stronger,” said Andrew Steinberg, chief revenue officer of the Hawks. “There is significant upside across multiple revenue streams. It’s a testament to the power of the brand’s success both on and off the court.”

Group-ticket sales revenue is up 63 percent compared with last year, and the team had seen 16 sellouts through March 4 compared with a total of five sellouts all of last season (when the team made the playoffs, but did so with a 38-44 record).

Average attendance through March 4 was up 17 percent this season compared with last year.

The financial gains along with the team’s on-court success — the Hawks last Thursday owned the NBA’s best record, at 48-12 — come as the team edges closer to being sold. The deal is on course, according to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, speaking at last month’s All-Star Game.

Goldman Sachs and Inner Circle Sports, retained by the Hawks’ current owners to sell the team, are evaluating bids for the franchise, which is expected to go for between $800 million and $1 billion. While no parties associated with the sale will comment, published reports have indicated that at least seven groups are bidding on the franchise.

The Hawks’ success both on and off the court would have been hard to predict after the team’s late-offseason headlines. In September, majority owner Bruce Levenson announced that he was selling his stake in the team after he self-reported to the league a racially tinged email he wrote in 2012. Following that announcement, report of dissension during the offseason between Levenson and his partner Michael Gearon Jr. came to light, further putting the Hawks in the headlines for the wrong reasons. Days later, general manager Danny Ferry took a leave of absence after racially charged comments he made during a conference call in June regarding free agent Luol Deng became public. The team also entered the season having not signed any prime free agents during the summer.

By last month, though, things had turned on the court to the tune of the Hawks sending four players to this year’s All-Star Game. Prospects of a playoff push timed with continued season-ticket and sponsorship sales efforts — and the franchise-sale effort — lie ahead.